Did Taxpayers Spend $3.4 Million for Trump Super Bowl Party?
The real scandal isn't the price tag but the beneficiary.
I have been arguing for a while now that the crimes for which President Trump were impeached bother me quite a bit less than the everyday corruption he displays.
So, I was predisposed to be outraged by the HuffPo report “Taxpayers Get $3.4 Million Tab So Trump Can Host Super Bowl Party For His Club Members.”
The president’s official schedule shows him spending two and a half hours Sunday evening at a “Super Bowl LIV watch party” at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. Tickets sold for $75 each, but were only available to members of the club — the initiation fee for which reportedly runs about $450,000, with annual dues costing several thousands of dollars more.
And I am indeed outraged, as I have been since he became President-Elect, that Trump is pocketing taxpayer money and leveraging his office to advance his personal business interests. More on that in a bit.
But it’s not helpful when critics bury that message when they conflate that corruption with perfectly normal presidential activity. And this report does that, rather seriously.
“Well, obviously there are no TVs in the White House, so what alternative did he have?” quipped Robert Weissman, president of the liberal group Public Citizen. “He could have saved money by chartering a plane and flying club members to watch the game at the White House.”
So, yes, that would be great. But like it or not, none of our recent Presidents have been content to hole up in the White House or even their nearby, taxpayer-funded getaway at Camp David.
In response to a query, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham defended Trump’s trip and attacked HuffPost: “The premise of your story is ridiculous and false, and just more left-wing media bias on display. The president never stops working, and that includes when he is at the Winter White House.”
Her phrase “Winter White House” refers to Mar-a-Lago, the for-profit resort in Palm Beach that is several miles east of the golf course and that doubled its initiation fee from $100,000 to $200,000 after Trump was elected in 2016. Trump frequently mingles with guests at social events there.
Now, it may be a stretch to say this President never stops working. But we’ve long understood that Presidents frequently travel, at enormous taxpayer expense, in ways that mix business and pleasure. That’s, no pun intended, par for the course.
If Mar-a-Lago were Trump’s home, in the way of George W. Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch, it would be annoying but routine for him to go there for things like Super Bowl parties on our dime. The scandal isn’t the cost of his travel and security at Mar-a-Lago, it’s that he’s putting money is his pocket every time he does it. Indeed, we pay him extra to that the Secret Service can protect him.
On Saturday, for example, Trump appeared at a dinner at Mar-a-Lago arranged by the “Trumpettes,” a group his female supporters. The dinner did not appear on the president’s publicly released schedule, and in any case was a campaign event, not an “official” one.
When a pool reporter asked the White House on Saturday what work Trump did over the weekend, the reply was that he had calls and “meetings with staff.” The president did not attend a rally on Saturday for Venezuelan leader Juan Guaido, whom the United States and other governments have recognized as the legitimate president of that country. That rally began while Trump was still at his golf course, and attending it could have made him late for the start of the Trumpettes’ dinner.
Even though I voted for Barack Obama’s Republican opponents in both instances, I defended his golf outings. Trump overdoes it, in my view, but I’d frankly rather he golf than make bad policy. (
And all Presidents meet with supporters. And, almost by definition, they could be doing something else that would better serve U.S. public interests instead. That may be lamentable but it’s normal.
Trump promised during his presidential campaign that he would separate himself from his businesses if he won. However, he reneged on that vow, as well as on his promise to release his tax returns.
Right. And we should genuinely be outraged by both those things. They are not normal.
[M]oney spent at Trump hotels and golf courses flows directly to the president, as he is the sole beneficiary of a trust that now owns his family business. U.S. taxpayers have been the source of at least a few million dollars that have gone to the Trump Organization in the form of hotel rooms, meals and other expenses for Secret Service agents and other government employees who have stayed on-site with Trump in Florida, New Jersey, Scotland and Ireland.
Again: not normal and outrageous.
This weekend’s trip to Mar-a-Lago was Trump’s 28th to the property since becoming president. Saturday’s and Sunday’s golf outings at the West Palm Beach club brings his total to 79 days there since taking office and 244 total golf days at properties that he owns.
Almost certainly excessive and more-than-normal. But . . . not outrageous. (That he constantly decried his predecessor’s golf outings and has, from the beginning, far outpaced him is galling in its brazen hypocrisy but hardly scandalous.)
Taxpayers’ total tab for his golf hobby, meanwhile, climbed to $130.4 million.
That figure and the $3.4 million for each Mar-a-Lago trip are based on a HuffPost analysis that included the costs of Air Force transportation, Coast Guard patrols, Secret Service security and other expenses, as detailed in a January 2019 report from the Government Accountability Office of Trump’s first four visits to Mar-a-Lago in early 2017
So, that’s not great stewardship of the taxpayer dollar. But I’m not going to quibble about how often he goes golfing.
The President is both our head of state and head of government. Not only does he need to be able to be reached, on a secure line, at any instant but his assassination would be a national tragedy.* So, we spend enormous amounts on security, communications, and the like any time a President travels.
I’ve argued for years that we go overboard on these measures. I’m not convinced, for example, that we need to send an entire fleet of limousines when a President travels abroad, particularly in highly-developed countries. But it’s part of the routine built up at least since the Kennedy assassination and that continues to grow for perfectly understandable bureaucratic reasons.
So, to recap:
- Let’s not get in a tizzy every time Trump plays golf, watches a Super Bowl, or does other perfectly normal things that every other President in memory has done.
- Let’s not compound that by whining about the perfectly normal costs associated with Presidential travel—let alone treating it as some sort of personal scandal.
- At the same time, let’s not treat Trump’s daily self-dealing as normal simply because it has become routine.
*Let’s not have a discussion as to whether the country would be better off if this particular President were dead.